Change of command: Civil-military ties

Dr Zafar Nawaz Jaspal

THE appointment of the Chief of Army Staff is always very sensitive due to the decisive role of the Army in the polity of Pakistan. The trends in the prevalent internal and external environment of the country also make the appointment of the current Chief of Army Staff (COAS) critical. So, the announcement of the promotion of General Qamar Javed Bajwa on November 26, 2016, as a four star-General and COAS has commenced thought-provoking debate on the civil-military relations in the country. The cautious conclusion is that General Bajwa would prefer the status quo and refrain from political adventurism.
Conversely, the domestic dynamics, especially the serious rift among the political parties and amateurish political culture of the state, are too unpredictable and may oblige COAS to contravene his mandate. The probability of the latter necessitates the critical analysis of the change of guards in Army and civil-military relations in Pakistan. The honourable retirement of General Raheel Sharif and appointment of a new COAS not only quashed the tradition of extension, but also accentuates that individuals are not indispensable. Moreover, Pakistan Army as a professional organization is immensely capable to breed able commanders or generals.
The appointment of new COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa and General Zubair Hayat Chairman as Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC) also manifested that it is prerogative of the elected Prime Minister to decide who is capable to lead the armed forces. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif amply exercised his constitutional power of the nomination of the COAS (4th in order of seniority) and CJCSC and President Mamoon Hussain endorsed the former’s recommendation. Nevertheless, still a few tricky cum challenging issues have potential to spoil the smooth functioning of the civil-military relations. The developments in the realm of domestic politics, counter-terrorism and upsurge on the eastern and western borders could encourage antidemocratic forces to pursue their agenda.
The COAS General Bajwa, certainly, endeavours for the logical conclusion of the ongoing Zarb-i-Azb. In this context, the biggest challenge for him would be refurbishing of the counter-terrorism strategy’s tactics. Without revamping the tactics, the counter-terrorism strategy would be victim of stagnation. Perhaps, inertia would complicate the pursuit of the objectives in the prevalent asymmetrical warfare in the country and also frustrate the man on the horseback. Therefore, he needs to act intelligently and swiftly. The recent three terrorist attacks in Balochistan necessitate the broadening of counter-terrorism operations including serious actions in certain parts of Punjab. Whether he would be able to persuade the ruling PML-N for such actions or simply follow the policy of his predecessor, i.e. chasing and killing the terrorist in entire country except Punjab.
The most important undertaking for the new COAS is to avoid military interference in the politics. Ironically, today, parliamentarians are debating the national issues on the private TV channels instead of at the floor of the National Assembly and Senate. One leading political party has boycotted the parliament for indefinite period and seems convinced to win 2018 general elections by maintaining political jingoism and protests on the streets. Political history of Pakistan reveals that such political tactics not only obstruct the smooth functioning of the political system but also make it vulnerable to the extra-constitutional upheavals.
Importantly, today, the Army seems amenable to judicial dictates, sensitive to media trials, and also reiterating that it supports democratic political system, legal and constitutional legitimacy of an elected government and also espouse for the PML-N government to complete its term in office. Simultaneously, the prevalent trends in the Pakistani polity manifest that the Army still plays an affective umpire, final arbiter or broker’s role in the civilian domain and is also determined to hold on its public vision as the ultimate custodian of Pakistan’s integrity.
The political elite in Pakistan are divided and engaged in free for all struggle for power. The integrity of the elected ruling elite is at the mercy of the apex court decision on the Panamagate cases. The political parties are a mirror image of dynasties. The steady degeneration of the civilian institutions and civilian law enforcement agencies have created space for Army’s role in restoring the writ of the state in Karachi, Federal Administrative Tribal Areas, Balochistan. Even in Islamabad, Rangers accompany the police mobiles during the patrolling.
Thus, the Army’s position of pre-eminence in the national polity would continue under the stewardship General Bajwa. To conclude, the national interest of the country pleas that the new COAS General Bajwa should not permit the derailing of the Zarb-i-Azb gains and focus on the rehabilitation of the affecters of the operation; assist civilian ruling elite in restoring and maintaining the writ of the state internally within the ambit of the constitutional framework; and above all forcefully thwart the military challenges at the eastern and western borders of Pakistan.
— The writer is Associate Professor, School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

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